Reading FC Match Report: 2018/2019 Season - Championship
READING 3 MILLWALL 1
Reading: Y Meite (28), S Baldock (pen 45), Y Meite (86)
Millwall: M Wallace (34)
Reading climbed out of the bottom three with a much needed home win, for which Paul Clement deserves tremendous credit, against a very competitive Millwall side. The visitors undoubtedly created more chances overall, and Jaakkola, making a rare appearance in the starting eleven, made several excellent saves; but it was essentially a very solid team performance which ultimately gave Reading a crucial three points. Millwall dominated the early phase of the game until, very much against the run of play, Meite gave the Royals the lead with a gem of a goal.
Typical of this season Reading surrendered the lead far too easily a few minutes later just when they looked like getting a grip on the game. A clumsy challenge on Blackett by Romeo gave Baldock the chance to restore the lead from the spot almost on the stroke of half time. The second half was set up for a classic contest. The game hung in the balance and with Millwall, having nothing to lose, piling on the pressure, we waited for either the equaliser or the counter attack which would clinch the game. It has to be said the former looked more likely. Relief and delight came in equal measures for the home fans courtesy of a downward header by Meite four minutes from time. Reading deserved the win for their resilience under pressure and, in the final phase, for the way they managed the game.
As so often this season, team selection was a talking point. Jaakkola’s selection was enforced by injuries, and there were welcome returns for Baldock and McCleary. Blackett was included at the expense of Gunter. In each case Clement’s decision proved to be justified. Jaakkola was given ample opportunity to prove himself and came up with the goods. A slick move gave Wallace a very good chance to fire Millwall into the lead on ten minutes but the Reading ‘keeper came out and spread himself to make a save. Five minutes later Jaakkola produced what may prove to be one of the best saves of the season from a powerful close range Jake Cooper header. Jaakkola was very busy in the opening half hour as Millwall picked their way through the Reading defence with alarming ease. In a rare break Blackett swept in a delightful cross which Meite met with a magnificent glancing header inside the far post. A moment of true quality from both players. Millwall were level four minutes later when Wallace reacted first to a ball which dropped in the six yard box to hammer past Jaakkola. Just before half time Reading played the ball across the Millwall box with no-one willing to try their luck with a pop at goal until it reached Blackett on the left, and after a tangle of legs Blackett went down. In spite of Millwall protests referee Web awarded the penalty. Baldock, oozing confidence, lashed the ball past Amos to restore Reading’s lead. It could not have come at a better time.
The Millwall siege began in earnest after the interval. Elliot rattled the bar with a header and Gregory had shot blocked in quick succession on fifty minutes. Reading had to remain calm and focussed to repel the threat a bombardment of corners and long throw-ins. Reading made use of the Millwall onslaught to counter attack. Swift threaded a ball through to put Meite clear, and it took a good save from Amos to keep his shot out. Cooper went into the book for what is best described as an assault on Swift to break up a promising situation when a Millwall attack had broken down. With a quarter of an hour to go Clement decided to bolster his defence and hang to the lead by bringing on Gunter creating a back five using Blackett as third centre back. It looked a gamble at the time but thankfully it worked as Reading kept Millwall out.
Victory was secured from a corner four minutes form the end of regulation time. Millwall left two forwards on the half way line which ironically may have contributed to their own downfall. With Reading deploying three defenders to keep an eye on them there was a lot more space in the box when Bacuna’s cross came over. Meite’s header was not the cleanest contact but crucially downward, just the way ‘keepers hate them and the ball bounced up into the roof of the net. For only the second time at the Madejski Stadium this season Reading fans went home happy. Millwall may feel they deserved better but in way they got what they deserved showing little imagination going forward in the second half. Pumping high balls into the box creates pressure but as long as defenders are prepared to compete every ball it often fails to bear fruit.
There were features of this performance which offered encouragement to Reading fans. Defensively especially late in the game Reading worked much harder as a unit to put pressure on the ball forcing Millwall to play backwards and sideways. Meite has always been a willing runner and relishes the physical side of the game but he now to be seems to be growing in confidence on the ball. He might have had a hat trick but for an excellent save from Amos. Baldock was extremely effective coming in from the left and showed some excellent touches to retain possession in tight situations. McCleary made a solid return, getting past his marker and putting the ball into the box. Blackett gives a better attacking option than Gunter and allows Yiadom to play in a more natural position on the right. Clement is managing his squad well considering the number of injuries to key players. There was hint of better things to come today and real progress is often a slow process.
This Championship game took place 122 days ago in the 2018/2019 season.